Fuel-Injected Dreams by James Robert Baker (Dutton: $15.95, hardcover; Plume: $5.95, paperback; 352 pp.)
Scott Cochran is a late-night L.A. deejay, a self-described “macho super-stud, male feminist, and untreatable schizophrenic,” with an uninhibited ‘80s version of the old Dave Diamond in the Diamond Mine deejay rap. “I wanna get on the death trip, boys and girls!” And get on the death trip he does. In a big way.
Scott had a girlfriend in Palos Verdes High School. He lost her at age 16 and never quite recovered despite about 20 years of mileage. She was the class pig to some, an angel to Scott. He has her fixed in his life with teen-age death-on-the-highway tunes like “Angel on the Highway” by the Beehives. Dennis Contrelle, a too-twisted-to-be-believed send-up of Phil Spector, produced the Beehives, and then the Stingrays. Sharlene was the lead singer in the Stingrays. She is Contrelle’s captive wife, and Scott Cochran discovers that she could stand in for his old girlfriend.
Scott falls in love all over again, tries to free Sharlene from Contrelle’s manic grip, and in the end discovers the truth about his old girlfriend’s disappearance. In between times, a full 25 years of Southern California popular culture are used like thick colored oil paint daubed with a palette knife all over the text with remarkable abandon.
Had “Fuel-Injected Dreams” been written to be funny, or written to make fun of itself--had it, for that matter, passed through the hands of a canny editor--it might have worked. As it is, James Robert Baker takes himself and his vision all too seriously, and his vision is as engaging as another Sunset Strip billboard. Some call the text erotic, but it is as arousing as a preteen onanistic fantasy spelled out for all to see. Given Baker’s imaginative excesses, nothing is left to the reader’s imagination.
This is, nonetheless, an energetic and at times amusing novel.
“I wiped Butch-Wax off my forehead still shocked at how much my hairline had receded,” Baker writes of Scott Cochran primping for his high school reunion. “I wanted to look like early Ricky Nelson; instead I looked more like early George Gobel.”
“Fuel-Injected Dreams” is littered with terrific throw-away lines like that. But the search can be wearing and the payoff, when it finally does roll in, is too far beyond credibility.